When I was growing up, there was nothing quite so exciting as the arrival of the new Consumers Distributing catalogue. My brother and I would study the pages of the toy section carefully, each marking off one toy — often a Lego set, Barbie or board game — that we wanted for Chanukah. It was our version of letters to Santa, if you will. \nAnd even though it wasn’t a surprise, it was still a thrill to open the gift weeks later (after lighting candles on the first night of the holiday) and find that our parents really had bought exactly what we asked for.\nNow, as a parent, I can see that it was a pretty modest undertaking. One gift, albeit a special one, for each child. And while many of us today would find that scenario lacking, it certainly didn’t feel that way at the time. Those are some of my best memories from my childhood — everyone smiling, happy and excited. And yet, there’s something about this time of year that makes me feel as though we should be pulling out all the stops.\n“No matter what your religious or non-religious background, you can't escape the commercial and emotional tug of the holidays,” says Chris White, a U.S.-based investment counsellor who examines how emotions, life experiences and family history drive financial decisions. “Each year we push ourselves and stretch too far and find the holidays are a time of stress, high stakes and pushed-to-the-limit Grinch-i-ness. Who ever heard that less is more at the end of the year?”\nI agree — money, emotion, guilt and expectation somehow seem to combine at holiday time to form a toxic cloud of conspicuous consumption that’s very hard to escape. In the process, our kids may start to believe that love is measured by material things, that they’ll get everything they want without having to work for it and that the holidays are about spending money rather than spending time together.\nSo what’s the answer? I think we just have to set limits and learn to say no more often. Sounds easy, but I know from experience it’s not.\n“Take a deep breath, exhale and know that sometimes the best gift is indeed the simplest,” says White. “Be generous, be kind and be gentle, starting with ourselves. Only then can we be that way with others.”\nKeep the conversation going\nWhat are your strategies for setting limits over the holidays? Post a comment below.\nDisclaimer \nThe views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of CPA Canada.